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Library: Find Sources

Finding Sources

The secret to finding good sources is utilizing good search terms, otherwise known as keywords. Identifying keywords will make the research process much more efficient and effective.

Follow the steps below to learn...

  • what keywords are and why they are important
  • how to identify keywords and synonyms
  • how to use those keywords and synonyms to formulate an effective search

What are Keywords?

They are simple terms or phrases that describe your topic. 

You will enter your keyword(s) into one of our databases, our catalog, or a search engine to find sources.

Library materials are organized by criteria such as Title, Author, and Subject. A keyword search is the broadest type of search because it will look for your word(s) in each of these fields as well as any others that may appear in an item's record.

Identifying Keywords

Pick out the most important terms in your topic or research question. These will frequently be the nouns in your phrase or question.

Example from a topic:

obesity and children in America

Example from a research question:

Do laws banning hate speech violate one's civil rights?

In the examples above, the keywords are in red. You will usually have 2 to 3 keywords.

Another thing to keep in mind is that keywords can be a single term (for example, "laws") or a concept comprised of multiple terms (for example, "hate speech").

Using Synonyms

Sometimes the keywords you have selected do not provide you with good search results. To yield different results, you may just need to try some different terms to describe the same concept. Thus, it's important to identify possible synonyms or similar concepts to your keywords.


Do laws banning hate speech violate one's civil rights?

  • Laws = regulations, legislation
  • Hate speech = inflammatory speech
  • Civil rights = civil liberties, first amendment rights, freedom of speech

HINT: some keywords will have several useful synonyms, while others may have few to none.

Forming Search Strategies

Once you have your keywords and synonyms, you will need to combine them to form search strategies. The idea behind forming these search strings is to find the one that will get you the most relevant results to your topic.

To do this, simply take each of your keywords and string them together by using the word "AND":

  • laws AND hate speech AND civil rights
  • laws AND hate speech AND freedom of speech
  • legislation AND hate speech AND civil rights

If one string doesn't return many relevant results, switch one of the terms out for a synonym and see what you get!

HINT: you will utilize these types of search strategies into the search box when you begin searching the library databases for articles.

Library Information


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